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Leica's North America Road Show M-Event by Charles Mohapel
Review by Charles Mohapel
Leica Camera AG Event  ISBN/ITEM#: CM100614LEICAM
Date: 13 June 2010

Links: Leica Camera USA / Leica M System / Leica M9 / Leica M9 Technical Data (Specs) / Show Official Info /

Held at the Hotel Opus in Montreal on June 5, 2010, Leica's North America Road Show M-Event was hosted by Brian Bell, Leica National Sales Manager for Canada and conducted by Justin Stailey, Product Specialist - Photographic Division. It was the perfect opportunity for each attendee to handle either a silver M9 or a black M9 with one of the lenses attached, then take a number of shots and save them to their own SD or SDHC memory cards.

Given that Leica Camera AG of Germany combines Old World craftsmanship with modern technology, it came as no surprise that the Montreal M-Event of Leica's North America Road Show was held at the Hotel Opus. Blending Old World ambience with New World technology, this small boutique hotel is located on rue Sherbrooke, literally around the corner from boulevard St-Laurent, the heart of Montreal's vibrant nightlife scene.

Camera size comparison

Leica M9
Dimensions (Width x Depth x Height):
Approx. 139 x 37 x 80 mm. (5 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 3 1/6 in.).
Weight:
585 g. (19.8 oz.) (with battery).
Leica Elmar-M 1:3.8/24 ASPH lens
Weight:
Approx. 260 g. (9.2 oz.)
Total Weight: Approx. 845 g. (29.8 oz.)

Canon PowerShot G9
Dimensions (excluding protrusions) (Width x Depth x Height):
106.4 x 42.5 x 71.9 mm. (4.2 x 1.7 x 2.8 in.)
Weight (No Battery):
320 g. (11.3 oz.)
Weight (Battery):
Approx. 43 g. (1.52 oz.)
Weight (With Battery):
Approx. 363 g. (12.8 oz.)
Total Weight: Approx. 363 g. (12.8 oz.)

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D
Dimensions (Width x Depth x Height):
Approx. 130.5 x 92.5 x 66.5 mm. (5.14 x 3.64 x 2.62 in.)
Weight (without batteries, memory card and body accessories):
Approx. 590 g. (20.8 oz.)
Konica Minolta NP-400 battery:
85 g. (3 oz.)
Konica Minolta AF DT 18-70mm (F1:3.5 (22) - 5.6) D lens:
Weight: 235 g (8.3 oz)
Total Weight: Approx. 910 g. (32.1 oz.)

All statistics are those of the manufacturers, except for the Konica Minolta NP-400 battery which was weighed separately.

Although the Canon PowerShot G9 is a big point and shoot camera, it looks small next to the Leica M9 (PICT2195). But the big surprise came when I picked up the M9 with Leica Elmar-M 1:3.8/24 ASPH lens mounted on it and discovered that it was heavier than I had imagined. Part of this is due to the all-metal die cast magnesium body, but is no doubt also greatly due to the superb components housed inside this rangefinder body. My curiosity piqued, I compared it to my Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D with the Konica Minolta AF DT 18-70mm (F1:3.5 (22) - 5.6) D lens and the M9 was nearly as heavy (65 g. / 2.3 oz. less). While not as deep or high (due to the fact that it has no mirror or prism), the M9 is surprisingly wider than the Maxxum 5D by 8.5 mm. (0.36 in.).

When holding the M9 with both hands to shoot, it felt comfortable in my hands but I found the synthetic leather covering to be too slippery for me to safely shoot one-handed without the strap wrapped around my hand.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

In PICT2196, you see the bottom plate of the M9; on the right side the latch design is identical to the old film Leica cameras, a tribute to their heritage. In PICT2197, the rechargeable 1900 mAh 3.7 volt lithium ion battery is visible at left and the SD/SDHC memory card is visible at right. Currently the M9 does not support the new faster high capacity SDXC cards.

The fine people that run Leica Camera AG made a supremely wise decision a long time ago that their newest cameras would always be backwards compatible with their old lenses. While those lenses dating back to 1954 do not possess the 6-bit coding on the newer lenses, they still work perfectly with the M9. Even the oldest lenses from 1932 work perfectly with the M9, albeit requiring a special adapter. Not only does this pragmatism let the Leica owner use their existing Leica lenses, it also shows the respect they have for their clientele.

PICT2201 shows six Leica lenses:
Front:
Summilux-M 1:1.4/24 ASPH Serie VII
Summilux-M 1:1.4/50 ASPH
APO-Summicron-M 1:2/75 ASPH

Back:
Noctilux-M 1:0.95/50 ASPH
Super Elmar-M 1:3.8/18 ASPH
Summilux-M 1:1.4/21 ASPH Serie VIII

The M9 is the only full frame digital camera to utilize a CCD sensor instead of the CMOS sensors used in other full frame digital camera. Full frame sensors measure 36 mm by 24 mm, the same dimensions as a 35mm film negative. Leica chose to use a CCD sensor custom made for them by Kodak instead of a CMOS sensor since they feel that the CCD sensor produces images more like film and superior color.

Knowing that the M9 shoots large RAW files (DNG: 18 MB (compressed) / 36 MB (uncompressed)), I was curious to see how many photos it would take in before the buffer filled up completely, the camera stopped shooting, and the buffer wrote the data to the memory card. I succeeded in taking 8 shots before this happened, impressive considering the large size of the DNG (Digital Negative) files.

Among the gems of advice offered by Product Specialist Justin Stailey were:

  • For 'Street Photography', use a Hyperfocal Distance between 1.2 m. (4 feet) and Infinity.
  • Underexpose by 1/3 stop for the best results.
  • Be advised that the M9's default setting for "Auto Power Off" is 'Off', this means the camera is always 'On' unless you shut it off. This is the opposite of the M8.
  • Since the M9 captures such large images, battery life is shorter than one might expect. Therefore you're well advised to remove the memory card to download the files instead of downloading them by the USB cable included in the box.
  • The software inside the M9 corrects for the vignetting on older lenses.
  • Leica will not offer Live View in the foreseeable future since the current CCD sensor will not work with Live View and that would force them to make the camera bigger.
  • View the JPEGs at 50% when printing them.
  • Even with 2 full shifts producing the M9, Leica can't keep up with the demand, although the waiting period has been halved from 6 months to 3 months.

In PICT2226 you can see a silver M7 (last M-series film camera), a silver M8 (first M-series digital camera), a silver M9, and a black M9. This shot was taken using the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D. Now compare it with L9996732, showing the same cameras, minus the silver M9, This was taken using the M9 with Leica Elmar-M 1:3.8/24 ASPH lens, a close up of which can be seen in PICT2227.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

L9996734 shows the reading area of the Hotel Opus and is corrected for underexposure.

The M9 has a hot shoe on top and you can use the powerful Leica SF 58 flash, the compact SF 24D flash, or one of those manufactured by Metz.

This was my first experience shooting with a rangefinder camera and although it's significantly different from shooting with a DSLR, an ultrazoom / bridge camera, or a point and shoot camera, the M9 has a reasonably gentle learning curve. It's also been a long time since I had to manually focus a lens using a split image in the center of the viewfinder image, and frankly it was lots of fun having to do things the old-fashioned way.

Cameras such as the M9 rangefinder are not geared toward the novice photographer, but like the top of the line automobiles produced by Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi, Leica cameras, lenses, and accessories are superbly crafted German precision technology. As is to be expected, the price you pay for such excellence is premium and well worth every penny.

Thanks to Brian Bell, Leica National Sales Manager for Canada, Justin Stailey, Product Specialist - Photographic Division, and Jean Bardaji, owner of Camtec Photo for hosting this M-Event. And a big thank you to Clara Kroher of Evins Communications, Leica USA's PR agency for getting me in.

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